Guidelines To Get The Real Picture From Your Business Surveys

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business surveys

Featured Image: iStock/ThitareeSarmkasat

Surveys are one of the most effective ways to get the lowdown on critical areas of business, such as employee engagement, management leadership and leadership training, operational efficacy, etc. However, creating surveys that show you the real picture of what is happening in your offices and how your workers are feeling is no easy feat. From content to formatting, and from language to presentation, subtle differences can greatly vary survey results.

In this article, we are sharing 9 important guidelines to create business surveys that can help you get to the truth of the matter.

Content Guidelines

1. Ask About Observable Behavior

While it is understandable that as a business you want to know what your employees think of their managers or how your workers feel about a new working-hours policy, it is important to ask questions that do not depend too much on personal opinions.

For example, questions like ‘Do you think your manager understands customer complaints?’ rely too much on the respondent’s opinion. These questions also allow space for biasness. If an employee does not gel well with their manager, such a question will encourage them to respond to it in whatever way they like because they are not being asked to quote actual examples to support their opinion.

Therefore, to remove subjective inferences and any unintentional bias from questions, make sure that your questions talk about observable behavior. Here are some benefits of content writing for brands and businesses if you want to explore further.

  • • ‘Does your manager listen to customer complaints before responding to them?’
  • • ‘Usually, how quickly does your manager resolve customer issues?’ (Add time slots here that respondents can choose).
  • • ‘Does your supervisor train you on how to handle customer complaints?’

Questions like these allow for a more objective evaluation. It also ensures getting undisputable survey results that you can trust for any relevant decision-making.

2. Include Questions With Verifiable Facts

This strategy is tied to the last. To make sure that your survey results are accurate, you need to include questions whose answers you can verify from independent sources. Open-ended questions where you ask employees to cite events that support their feedback help them take the survey seriously. Not only that, but it also gives you insight into real interactions taking place between your workers.

For example, if you are conducting a survey that measures efficient management, include questions that ask respondents to rate how effectively their manager fosters employee trust and engagement. You can then tally the results with your company’s employee retention data and see whether employees actually feel valued and engaged at work or not.

Similarly, to evaluate how much employees have learned during the training, compare their survey answers with department performance data and see how the two columns measure up.

The more congruence you can find in multiple sources of data, the more secure you can be of the insights that your data is showing you.

3. Pay Attention To Causal Relationships

Your survey is of no use if it cannot help you identify problems as well as the factors that are causing them. To make sure your surveys can point you to the root cause of the problem, pay attention to questions that help create a link between what is being asked and what needs to be done to improve that specific area.

For example, a common question present on most employee surveys reads something like this:

‘I have access to all the information I need to perform my task.”

This question is included to gauge the level of communication between workers and management, and whether the staff has all the necessary information they need to do their jobs well. Questions like these help companies get to the crux of the matter and apply the most effective solutions.

Formatting Guidelines

4. Do Not Divide the Survey Into Sections

This one is really important, and it’s all about psychology. When you break your survey format into clearly labeled sections, headings, or boxes, you encourage your audience to assign subconscious values to each section. Someone who doesn’t care much about the Leadership Style of their manager would pay less attention to that section and may fill out the Satisfaction part more carefully.

To avoid these biases and psychological cues, format all your questions in a single file – no breaks and no sectioning. Let your respondents treat the survey tool as one cohesive document where each question carries equal weight and requires their utmost attention.

5. Tell People How Long The Survey Will Take

Survey exhaustion is real. Asking people to ignore their daily tasks and fill out a survey can be a huge thing if people aren’t sure how long will it take. If you conduct regular surveys, the exhaustion can be even more pronounced.

To avoid this and to counter survey abandonment, always time your surveys. Tell people how long will it take to fill out the survey, how many questions there are, and if the survey is on paper, don’t forget to number the pages. These measures will ensure that people know exactly how much time they need and they can schedule and rearrange their tasks accordingly.

6. Place Employee Information Questions Carefully

Business surveys are of many kinds. Employee engagement surveys, employee satisfaction surveys, annual appraisals, product surveys, customer satisfaction surveys and some others are among the most popular ones.

Depending on the type of the survey, where you ask people to share their identifying information is critical. For example, if it’s a survey that asks people to rate their manager and includes open-ended questions where they are asked to share examples of real interactions, most people will have second thoughts about disclosing information that can identify them. On the other hand, if you place these questions at the end, people may feel more open to answering.

Language Guidelines

7. Use Negatively-Phrased Questions

This one again is psychological. Research has indicated that most people tend to answer in affirmations for most survey questions. This means that people tend to agree with most survey statements.

To counter it, experts suggest using negative questions every once in a while during the survey to break the monotony and encourage respondents to pay closer attention to the question. It’s important to remember that negative questions do not necessarily contain negative wording. Using the opposite of what you want to find out is a pretty straightforward way to go.

Few examples of a negatively phrased question include:

  • • “I find this book to be less interesting than I had expected.”
  • • “My manager is not easily accessible when I am dealing with a difficult customer.”
  • • “Compared to other products of the same category, I do not find this product too expensive.“

When writing negative questions, make certain to steer clear of double-negatives, loaded questions, and questions with complicated wording.

8. Do Not Ask Two Questions In One

A rookie mistake often made in business surveys is to use more than one question in a single question. Questions such as ‘Do you agree that the information provided to you was timely and comprehensive’ or ‘I believe that my teachers and administration are completely invested in my education?’ are prime examples of asking two questions in one.

What these questions do is ask respondents about two ideas (timely information versus comprehensive information and investment of teachers versus investment of administration) in one question while only allowing one response.

What if I believe my teachers are invested in my education but not the administration? What if the information provided to me was complete but was delayed by several days?

Such questions are called double-barreled questions and should be on your Survey-Don’ts List for all kinds of surveys. Substitute these with clearly-worded questions where each one asks about one main idea.

9. Avoid Language That Inspires Strong Associations

Avoid using terminology that evokes strong gender, cultural, social, or any other kinds of associations. Research has found that when we ask questions such as ‘Do you think your supervisor listens to your concerns with empathy?’ and ‘My manager deals with unanticipated problems with a confident attitude’ have strong gender associations.

Employees who have a female supervisor tend to rate them favorably on scales of kindness and empathy while male bosses are rated better when asked about ‘confidence’ and ‘directness’.

Since these unintentional associations can drastically alter a survey’s result, it is important to use careful language when phrasing questions for your survey. Train those in charge of creating surveys to use neutral terms that do not have any kinds of associations. For the best results, use a third-party company that has the desired level of knowledge and experience to create flawless surveys.


In the modern world of business, access to critical insightful data ensures that your business creates and retains its competitive advantage. However, that advantage can be severely compromised if you cannot trust what that data is showing you. These guidelines give you an inside peek at what goes into creating a trustworthy survey instrument. Incorporate these best practices into your survey questions to glean results that you can rely upon.

About The Author

Kelvin Stiles is a tech enthusiast and works as a marketing consultant at SurveyCrest – FREE online survey software and publishing tools for academic and business use. He is also an avid blogger and a comic book fanatic.